The return of competitive football is almost upon us; next weekend, Leeds United travel to the capital to take on Queens Park Rangers to get their Championship campaign under way. With an exciting, new-look coaching set up and kit to match, there’s a quiet sense of excitement, twinned with realism, among the Elland Road faithful; could Garry Monk be the man to help the club mount a serious challenge for promotion back to the Premier League?
It’s not just new management and a new kit in West Yorkshire; there have been six high-profile additions to the first team squad so far, with one major departure (you’ll be missed Lewis, and thanks for the screamer against Fulham). It will be interesting to see, therefore, who the manager chooses in his first competitive starting XI in London next weekend.
Whilst Marco Silvestri has been the club’s number one for the past two seasons, Monk’s decision to send him home from the preseason tour of Ireland would suggest that he is very much on the fringes of the squad. Young Bailey Peacock-Farrell looks promising, but Rob Green will surely start between the sticks.
With everyone fit, the fullbacks pick themselves, as they did last season; Gaetano Berardi on the right and Charlie Taylor on the left. Despite ongoing rumours about Taylor’s future, the 22 year old regularly puts a shift in, and is one of the most professional and consistent players in the squad. Between them, in the heart of the defence, Liam Cooper is likely to get the nod over Sol Bamba, due to the performances of both over the past season, to start alongside new signing Kyle Bartley.
The back four will be marshalled by Toumani Diagouraga, or ‘Dave’ as he’s known on the terraces, and one other; fans will be hopeful to see a deal for Liam Bridcutt completed before the season begins, but if not it is likely to be one of either Luke Murphy or new signing Matt Grimes. Murphy’s experience probably makes him slightly more likely to command a starting place.
The attacking players of this squad look capable of doing some real damage to opposition defences, none more so than Northern Ireland wingman Stuart Dallas, who is an obvious shoe-in on the left wing, despite missing a fair amount of preseason due to his European achievements in France with his country this summer. Former Oxford United man Kemar Roofe has looked dangerous in the friendly matches since he signed for £3m, and could be dangerous drifting infield from the wide right position. Swedish forward Marcus Antonsson will operate between the two, making runs off New Zealand target man Chris Wood. The latter took some stick from Leeds fans last season, despite scoring 13 goals in an injury-plagued season; if he can keep his fitness, he could be one of the league’s top scorers this season, given once-prolific goal scorer James Beattie is now a coach at the club.
This, of course, is not a definite starting XI; new signing Hadi Sacko has not been mentioned, while Alex Mowatt is another who has looked very good in the preseason fixtures. Throw young midfielders Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira into the equation and Monk’s squad appears to have some good strength in depth. Yes, this may cause the manager some headaches when it comes to picking his first competitive starting line-up, but it’s certainly a good headache to have.